Monday, August 28, 2017

HOW WE FIND THE INTERESTING FRUGAL PLACES TO VISIT


I recently had someone contact me wanting to know how we found so many free or near free places to visit.  It was suggested it would be a good blog post for the new and not so new travelers who would prefer to visit this type of attraction. The same could go for some of the campgrounds we visit.

The campgrounds are located basically by research.  We want clean, inexpensive and preferably with some utilities, all though we do boondock (camp without utilities) some.

For us boondocking is usually done in parking lots with the manager’s permission or truck stops for a single night stay.  Although we have, due to breakdowns spent several nights in one Wal-Mart parking lot while our truck was being repaired.  We did this with permission from the store. 

Although we do plan on staying on some Bureau of Land Management sites in the future.
Boondocking is of course the cheapest of camping because it is generally free, although I am told some BLM land may have a small fee.

Our preferred campgrounds are Corps of Engineer (COE) or National Parks.  With our Senior Pass  we can camp at those for half price.  So generally around $9-$14 per night. 

Even if you aren’t a senior you can purchase an annual pass for around $80 that will get you the same benefits.  There is also a free annual Military Pass.  

The Senior Pass is a lifetime one and it cost us $10.  There are other benefits to the passes, like free entry into the parks that make it well worth the investment if you are going to be doing much camping in COE or National Parks.

COE and National Park campgrounds are generally water and electric with an onsite dump station.  However, we have ran into a few with no dump station.
 
We find these parks mainly by visiting the National Parks website.    Although Gary does use RV Parky anytime he is looking for our next campground, because it generally has most of the types of campgrounds we are looking at.

At one COE we stayed at we were given a cd that contained a state by state breakdown of the campgrounds for all the COE in the US.  Quite handy in its own right because RV Parky doesn’t list all the campgrounds.

Truthfully I never knew many cities maintain campgrounds until we started traveling full time last year.  These campgrounds are generally inexpensive, have water and electric with either a dump station or sewer hook-ups.  A few we have stayed at this last year have even had free wi-fi.  These campgrounds usually run in the $20 per night range.  Again we use RV Parky and the town’s website to locate them.

State campgrounds are similar to all the previously mentioned, but generally run just slightly higher.  Generally $20-$25 at the ones we have stayed at. Often times a state ran campground will have a list of all that states campgrounds.  Every state also seems to have their own website with a list of them as well.  Although some state websites are easier to navigate than others. 

State road maps also generally have campground icons on them to help you locate them.

Sometimes it pays to buy a state annual pass if you are going to be in the state much because many states also have a daily park use fee PER PERSON and those fees are waived if you have the state pass.

We currently own one for Texas and one for Minnesota for that very reason.  The savings on our first Texas State Park stay paid for the pass. It actually came with four free nights of camping after you used it for a certain number of nights and at different parks.  We have used it several times over the last year and our savings has been great. 

Our Minnesota one paid off quickly because we have gone to see many things in Minnesota parks that have a per carload entry fee that is waived if you have the state park pass.

Then of course there are the privately owned campgrounds those can be small and nice with frugal prices of around $25-$30 all the way up to $100.  Yes, we have paid $99 a night for one week, just to be on site at Walt Disney World, but no longer. We have found a much less expensive campground nearby that actually allows us to get into the parks faster.  Blog post on Stage Stop Campground follows shortly.

We find out about all these campgrounds by the means I have already mentioned, plus word of mouth, doing google searches for the area we want to be in with the word campgrounds in our search, Woodalls (picked up at a AAA office for free as part of our membership) and at tourist information centers.

We always ask if there are discounts including, but not limited to: AAA, Senior, Veteran, Good Sam’s, Sam’s Club, Weekly/Monthly stays, our auto insurance company, and internet specials.  You can also get discounts through AARP, KOA and many camping membership clubs, if you are a member, we are not.  You should always ask about a discount, not only in camping, but whenever visiting an attraction.  All they can say is “no” and you just might be surprised at how many discounts they are out there.

Especially if you are staying 5-6 days in one place be sure to ask about weekly discounts.  A prime example of this was a conversation I overheard at a campground we frequent often.  The man in line ahead of me did not have a Good Sam’s card or other item to receive the discount at the campground.  The woman at the counter said “so you want the weekly discount” he replied no they were only wanting to stay 5 nights. 

She went on to explain to him.  “Sir the nightly rate is $35 so five nights will cost you $175.  The weekly rate is $150 and you do not have to stay the full week if you don’t want to.”  He took the weekly rate and kept $25 in his pocket.  I on the other hand paid the monthly rate of $350 and saved even more because I knew we would be there the full month. Always ask.

Another discount to check out is one for annual passes for any park, museum or other attraction you may own.  When we have a Silver Dollar City annual pass it includes discounts for certain campgrounds and motels in the area.  Same for Dollywood and sometimes Disney World

Now for the fun stuff.

Finding unique places to visit for free or near free. 

1.       Tourist information centers.  Grab every pamphlet, book or piece of paper you can at these free locations that looks the least bit interesting to you.  Then when you have time look through them, google for more information if you need to. What you don’t use leave in a campground laundry room for someone else.  What doesn’t interest you may interest them.

N  I am not just talking about the ones as you cross the border into a new state.  Seek out the Chamber of Commerce of any town you are visiting, even the very small ones, because often this is where the really good brochures on free or near free locations hide.  Sometimes there won’t be an actual brochure, but a knowledgeable clerk behind the counter.

No Chamber of Commerce?  Check the local grocery store.  Yep the grocery store.  In the tiny town of Lindsborg, KS I found a free standing display, like highway maps are often displayed in, that had all sorts of local information.  If you read my posts on our stay at the campground near there you know we found much to do and can truthfully say it was one of our most interesting visits to an area.

2.    Word of mouth is still one of the best methods of learning about unique places.  We talk to campground hosts, other campers and friends that have previously been to an area.  We also speak to the volunteers at various establishments and express interest in finding similar places in the area.  If you have places you think would be of interest to us we’d love to hear from you. 

The Lindsborg, KS area was suggested to us by a friend, Cliff Chism, and we thank him greatly for sending us that direction.

Blogs and vlogs are a good source as well.  Hopefully, you have already found some different places that you had previously never heard of before you started reading my blog posts.

Road Atlas often have points of interest listed before or after the maps  Along with little snippets of history for the area.

Historical markers can lead you to do more investigating.  An example of this is part of our visit to Chanute, KS.  At a historical marker just before you enter town in a rest area we learned about the "Bloody Benders".  This story prompted us to do more research.


3.    Books, movies, history and genealogy.  Ever read about something, saw a movie or wonder about the area your ancestors came from.  Go to the area and see what there is to see.  Even if it is not a frugal place per say, books can lead to a better enjoyment of the area.
   
     We are huge Disney fans, as you probably already know.  We have been to Disneyworld more times than we can remember, traveling from Oklahoma to do so.  However, the last few visits have been different for us because of a series of young adult books by Ridley Pearson called Kingdom Keepers. I have reviewed a couple of these books on my “Outside a Dog” blog.
   
      Mixed into these sci-fi books are behind the scenes glimpses of all the parks, cruise lines, night time spectaculars and more.  Hidden doorways, how the tigers in the Animal Kingdom are safely fed, bits of park history and much more.  Now we look for the things mentioned in the books to see if they are true or just used to add to the book.  We have found many of the hidden doorways and other items as a result. These searches add to our enjoyment of the parks.
   
     Traipsing through old cemeteries can be far more interesting than you might realize.  While we do genealogy research we often find beautiful old cemeteries that we know none of our family is buried there, but we stop anyway, because of the history and beauty of the place.
   
      As I type this, June 23, 2017, I think of the cemetery we drove through yesterday.  Mt. Vernon, Cemetery near Atchinson, KS.  A large beautiful cemetery with many old headstones, large tombstones and monuments on a hill with a great view.
 
     You can learn a lot about the history of a town by reading dates.  Things like whole families dying within days of each other in the 1800s generally meant an epidemic like typhoid.  Mothers and babies dying close to each other generally meant a bad birthing.

     Military, Masonic, Woodsman symbols as well as crosses and stars tell you about the person.  Graveyards can be very interesting.
 
    Don’t forget, even the famous generally get buried somewhere.  Mt. Moriah Cemetery near Deadwood, SD is a prime example of that.

    Did you know there is a circus performer cemetery in southern Oklahoma with unique tombstones.  It is on our list to visit on one of our trips back home.

    Or how about the pyramid shaped monument for the camel driver from the Calvary in the cemetery near Quartzite, AZ.  Until visiting that cemetery just because we stumbled across it in our travels neither of us had given much thought to the camels and what happened to them, or even really thought about that part of our US history at all.  That turned out to be quite educational. We have found many unique monuments in cemeteries across the nation.

    We did historical re-enactments of the Fur Trade Era, pre 1840, for many years.  So going to a Hudson Trade company historical site many years ago was great to us, and cheap.

      In 2017 we have already visited both Jamestown and Historic Jamestowne, Yorktown and Newport News.  All are blog posts waiting to be written and will be soon.

4.       Road signs, even small faded ones.  Keep your eyes open. The first time we went to the Little House on the Prairie home site of Laura Ingalls Wilder near Chanute, KS (yet another post in the queue to be written, did I mention I am very far behind on posts) we only learned about it because of a small road sign that pointed the direction.

While generally we won’t take off down a road on a lark like that pulling the fifth wheel, we did that time and had to go way out of our way to get turned around. We learned our lesson, now if the point of interest is in an area we are planning on parking for more than one night we will unhitch the trailer and go check it out. If not we will make a note of it to visit on another trip through the area.

An example of this was the Windmill Museum in Shattuck, OK.


This month we have been loosely following the Lewis and Clark trail following the road signs showing us the trail.  In Virginia we followed a Civil War Trail, again based on signs. 

Libraries. I know the Tulsa City County library has a monthly newsletter they hand out that list all sorts of free classes, travelogs, book signings, and activities for children.

Our visit to Chanute, KS included a wonderful travelog and small museum right in the library.



5.       Penny Hikes, as we call them.  Camped in an area, with seemingly nothing to see.  Take a Penny Hike.  Come to an intersection, flip a coin heads one direction, tails another.  You never know what interesting old buildings, ghost towns or small museums you might stumble across doing this.  Of course, make sure your gps is working well so you can get back to your lodgings for the night, just in case…

6.       Free Factory Tours is a website we frequent because we like to see how things are manufactured.  Although any more most of the “factory tours” are actually a hospitality building with displays, videos, and sometimes free samples, they are still interesting and educational.  So far we have visited two such places, Bush Beans and Florida Natural Juices (blog coming soon). But will visit more as we travel.


The website Only in Your State has many interesting sites to visit on its pages. Campgrounds too.

7.       Television programs can prompt you as well.  Ever hear of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives?”  Did you know there is a list on the web for all the places Guy has televised.  So far we have only located one, by actually looking for it.  We ended up not eating there because the line was around the block.

     We did eat at Ree Drummond’s, aka: Pioneer Woman, Mercantile.  Delicious!  The day we visited we saw her husband Ladd and were given a free ticket to go tour the lodge where most of her programs are filmed.  That post will be in the near future as well.
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     Then of course there is always travelogs either on tv or dvd.  Basically if it looks interesting we check it out.

I know it sounds like we spend a lot of time researching locations, but then as the quote goes “Planning is half the fun of the trip.” 

If you have other suggestions on how to find unique places to visit please leave a comment below.





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